George Olive: NID and the need for public input
February 9, 2018
In November we get to vote. Whatever your affiliation, there is a local issue you can dig into now (http://yubariver.org/centennial-dam-faq/) and, perhaps, have an impact on at election time.
The Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is pushing a new dam and reservoir on the Bear River. The Centennial Dam would create the fourth reservoir on the small Bear River and flood a popular, accessible six miles that include cultural sites and private property.
A growing group of citizens — locals with expertise in hydrology, government, real estate, geology, agriculture, etc. — have come together to study this proposal. Some of us attend all NID meetings. We are increasingly concerned that NID's directors are not going to deliberate in public about the dam's myriad complex issues — including the cost — until the project momentum and status leave only one choice: expensive litigation. Meeting after meeting we watch directors fail to engage with this woefully incomplete proposal.
So we need new directors at NID, responsive, thinking people who will represent us when NID makes decisions; inquisitive people who will challenge NID management about Centennial's unknowns. In November, those of you in NID Districts 1, 2 and 4 (http://nidwater.com/about-nid/division-map/) get a chance to put directors in place who will do their homework and reach their own conclusions.
If current directors won’t or can’t control the preliminary steps in this huge proposal, let’s elect people who can. They’ll make NID work for us.
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NID Director Nick Wilcox wrote recently about Centennial. Consistent with NID's nontransparent approach to the $400 or $500 million project, he wants to wait until later this year for the delayed environmental report, the EIR. He wants to wait for the EIR before decision-making happens. That's bogus. NID has already spent millions of public dollars on Centennial. Those of us watching this proposal closely and attending NID meetings disagree strongly with "wait and see." Why is this proposal not on monthly board agendas?
As the few details about Centennial have emerged, there is growing concern among locals from the ag, business, ecology, recreational, native peoples and rate-payer sectors that NID is not pursuing an ethical, fiscally responsible process as it "piece-meals" this impactful project. Ethics, for instance: NID has already spent, with approvals occurring in closed board sessions, about $7 million on private property acquisition in the reservoir inundation zone — before the feasibility of the project has been decided.
Fiscal responsibility: NID's project cost estimates are incomplete, soft, and misleading to tax and ratepayers. A February 2017 peer-reviewed, professional estimate of the full project estimates $500 million, including some conservative projections for mitigation and litigation. A full estimate from NID has yet to be reported. And how will Nevada County's largest-ever project be financed? Some type of bond? Estimates on bond financing — even low-balling — push project costs beyond $1 billion.
Do NID directors really want to delay deliberations? Here is an alternate approach: We need NID directors who will use their decision-making agenda to study Centennial's pros and cons. This huge project — already over budget and with unpredictable environmental and local tax and recreational impacts — requires a component by component study.
For instance, local water storage, water supply, and climate data have been presented around the county as the public questions the need for another dam and reservoir. Why haven't this contradictory data been on an NID agenda? Further, where do directors think the initial revenue will come from for the dam? Is there some thinking about water sales out of the area? And how does hydro power play in here? The Yuba Watershed plays a critical, complex role in regional hydrology. NID now needs directors who have enough background and big-picture understanding to make sound deliberative decisions about multi-faceted issues — like dams.
In a rural county like ours, "lay" board members in special districts can lack expertise and, when things get technical, let staff make decisions. The Centennial project has far too many potential negative impacts to allow decisions to be made without public deliberation and input.
If current directors won't or can't control the preliminary steps in this huge proposal, let's elect people who can. They'll make NID work for us.
George M. Olive, III lives in Nevada City.